Recording Solo Timpani

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by MLocke, Dec 18, 2005.

  1. MLocke

    MLocke Active Member

    I've been asked to record a piece for solo timpani this week. The piece is for 4 drums, and can be performed with or without percussion ensemble accompaniment (this will be the unaccompanied version). At my disposal are AKG 414's, AKG 391's, Shure 57's, EV PL20's, and Sennheiser 421's (at least 4 of each; it's a weird collection I can pull from). The recording will have to go directly to 2 track. The timpani themselves are a very good set, have new heads, and will be played by a very good player who has the piece down. It will be recorded in a ~430 seat auditorium with moderatly-live accoustics. I think I'd like to use a stereo pair, but this is where I'm looking for the groups knoledge as to what orientation/setup for the mics and maybe a starting location (yes I know: try and listen, try and listen....) Thanks for any help.

  2. OneMegahertz

    OneMegahertz Guest

    Have you noticed lots of readers, but no suggestions on this? Not to mince words: It's because of your mic locker. :cry:

    Your assortment of dynamic mics has plenty of potential for recording drums in a rock setting. That's why you bought them, right? But tympani are classical percussion and it would be unusual to use dynamics for that. What you really want to do is put a stereo pair of condensers in the right place.

    But which mics? I've used both 414's and 391's, and neither would be my first choice for this. What can you borrow two of? Any chance of borrowing a pair of DPA or Earthworks omnis? I also rather like TLM-193's in this application -- it's one reason I've kept them in my locker. But if you're limited to your locker, I'd probably start with the 391's and have the 414's available in case they were needed. You'll need the pads on for sure, and I'd still be worried about overloading. (Get the player to give you his worst and check your whole signal chain.)

    Start by placing the drums on stage wherever the player is happiest with the sound. Then figure out your mic placement. You need to be far enough out that you hear the whole sound from each drum, but close enough in that you get a nice, wide stereo image. Putting the mics high in the air is a good way to accomplish this, so bring the tallest stands you can lay hands on.

    I'd probably start with the mics 10' up. I'd pull the stands forward and back to optimize the drum tone, and higher or lower to get exactly the right amount of room tone. Once I'd figured that out, I'd space them wider or closer to optimize the stereo image. Finally, double check your gain structure. Do NOT trust the meters on your DAW! Play it back to make sure it sounds ok.

    Do you plan to edit? Probably. Be aware that you'll need a long lead-in to allow the drum sound to build up in the room -- else editing will cause artifacts. Also, the drums will sound different as the day goes on and the temperature and humidity change, so plan to get your retakes done before you go on to the next movement.

    Have fun!

    David L. Rick
    Seventh String Recording
  3. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Everything David said is good.

    Since I am not familiar with the hall in question I would suggest doing the recording in the following manner,

    Get to the hall early. Set up whatever microphones you are going to use on an adjustable stand that will reach up to 10 feet or more. I would probably use an X-Y or ORTF set up. I would suggest using the best microphones you can afford to rent or borrow. Condensers would be my first choice and for what you are recording a large diaphragm would be my first choice. Neumann M-249s or M-50s or something of that quality.

    As the percussionist is warming up I would walk around the tympani listening to what is the best sound for the particular setup he or she is using. I would start by placing my microphones there at about head level. Then go back to where you are monitoring and listen to what you are getting. Walk back and forth raising or lowering the microphone and going back to listen until you have the sound you are looking for. (you may also have to move the microphones in and out a bit to get exactly what you are trying to get in terms of sound). You will want to monitor on something that has good bass response and if you are using headphones something like the Beyer DT880 would be my first choice or the Beyer DT770s my second choice. If you have the luxury of speakers to monitor on I would make sure the speakers have a good low frequency response.

    As to Cardioid or Omni? Not knowing the room and how it sounds I would probably go with the Cardioid setup. Omni's are nice BUT if the room does not sound good or there is a lot of slap back or other nasty acoustical problems you don't want to get that in the recording and the tympani will certainly excite the room. Just remember that tympani's can be very very dynamic from very soft to very very loud so allow for that on your recording and I would not go above -6 dBFS Peak to allow for the one extra crescendos that you are not expecting.

    As to the comfort of the musician, a good record producer who I really respect once told me that getting the musicians comfortable and playing where they feel comfortable is one of the first things a recording engineer should do. He said that you will get a much better performance if the musician is comfortable and is reacting well with his or her surroundings. I have always taken that advice to heart and it has served me well.

    Best of luck and let us know how the recording turns out.

  4. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    I see you have received excellent advice from two much better recordists than myself. So maybe I may ventilate some ideas, not to be taken very seriously as I am more or less a beginner on this.

    Sounds like a great project. Whish I was there with you.

    I have been pondering on how I would attack the issue myself and must say I find myself lost. I find it very difficult to get a good recording of tympani generally. Too far away in the wrong room and all you get is a thunder storm over Serengeti. Without the flashes to help you everything is just about everywhere. (Bear in mind, my experiences of Serengeti are all based on Animal Planet).

    Anyway, I would probably start as follows. Nothing new here, setting up the instrument where it sounds best according to the player (usually a good starting point for any recording). A stereo pair in the obvious place, 10 feet up, a bit more in front of the instrument. Guess I would start with a pair of 414 in M/S or ORTF from what you have. Record a few bars here and there to get the feeling of it. Listening. Moving mics. Listening. Moving again. I find that it helps to keep lots of notes and to mark positions on the floor or measuring carefully to known points.

    But here is the big point for me: what ideal to aim for really. I might turn to going for a "pop" ideal in this situation. Or at least ponder about it a bit. That would then be close micing. A rather different approach. I have tried close micing tympani, and it is an interesting sound from the "click" where the club hits the skin. Quite different from the sound far away. No, on second thought probably not. But just maybe, add a touch of that to the main mix. Difficult to get right if all you have is two channels, I would of course use my multi channel setup and mix to taste later. Could you borrow/rent/steal something with a few more channels?

    As for the mics to choose, I think that the larger palette you have to choose from the longer the decision process will take. On the other hand, just that odd combination of mic might be the very right for this. Personally I love DPA 4003 (or 4006) omnis and I would definitely try them here.

    All in all, I would really try to schedule several sessions for this. My ears get tired quickly and decision making becomes difficult. I would record with a number of different setups, take lots of notes including careful measurements of where things are placed. And then go home and listen carefully.

  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Excellent advice all around. I'd add just a few more things here, although my tympanic experience (is that anything like a tympanic membrane?? :roll: ) is limited to its use in ensembles.

    Following that line of thought, I'd go about it almost the same as its use in the bigger groups: Use a pair of omni's further out, for more ambience/hall sound, and experiment with a spot or (probably better yet) ORTF cardioid pair up closer. Mix to taste in your DAW, and as already pointed out; keep a close eye on those transients! To capture it all faithfully, you'll need a lot of headroom. (And gunnar; I too LOVE the sound of the stick/mallet hitting the head! It's great, and it happens on typamni, too, but often overlooked!)

    This may scare your tympanist..heheh...who's used to being told he/she overloads the mics (well, the preamps, actually) and they may immediately flinch and suggest you move the mics further away. Assuming you're having a dialog with them, though, explain you're trying out a few things, and see what you get during rehearsals/run-throughs.

    Not too long ago, I had some great back and forth conversations with a tympanist in the Delaware Symphony who was eager to hear what effect his various stick/mallet hardness would have on the recorded sound in concert with the rest of the orcestra. We tried different (and subtle) things each night during one run, and then something different a month later. It was great working with someone who cared about such things, and the difference was audible each time, until he finally got what he wanted, sonically.

    Hope your results are similar.
  6. huub

    huub Guest

    I am interested; very often, for bass or percussion, instruments with lots of low frequenencies, large diaphragm mics are suggested..
    small dia's, km140's or dpa's have lots and lots of lows right?
    Is this particular suggestion based on your personal preference and experience, or is there a philosophical idea behind the using of ld's for LF material?

  7. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I happen to like the sound of large diaphragm microphones on low percussion but like anything else in audio if something else works for you then use it. If you like the sound of small diaphragm microphones for percussion I would use what sounds best. I have used many different microphones in my career from SM-69 Neumann to telephone handsets and shotgun microphones made out of various lengths of plastic tubing into a funnel with an electret microphone at the end of the funnel. Over time I have found that what sounds best in the given situation is the microphone to use for that particular time and place and I try not to worry about what everyone else would use.

    I was always of the mindset, small diaphragm quick response larger diaphragm slower response but fuller sound so small diaphragms for micing large ensembles with lot of different instruments in an X-Y or ORTF configuration and micing things like guitar and snare where you want really quick response. Large diaphragm for choirs, human voices and low frequency solo instruments like double bass, cello and tympani. But again my favorite micing setup for orchestras is with three AT 4050 microphones in a Decca Tree arrangement and it works GREAT!

    Different strokes for different folks.
  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Tom, I really like your approach with the three 4050's. (I only have two, and I always forget about your technique!)

    That said, I'd humbly suggest you try the sound of a pair of new DPA 4006 TL's someday. The bass response is unreal; it has to be heard to be believed.
  9. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    Good point by Thomas. Use what sounds best. Always.

    Given that I am rather new at this, here are my additional musings.

    It can be argued that to capture those really low tones you need a true omni. Cardioids generally loose a bit of the lowest octave due to the design. Most "true" omnis are small diameter and many of them can capture very low frequencys, much lower than a typical LDC. The switchable large diameter mics you find generally are not "true" omnis but instead made up from two cardoids.

    All of this however is totally irrelevant, as the only thing that matters is the sound. And here you may possibly make a small generalization. Most large diameter condensors (if you look at sales volume at the local music technology shop) are intended for close micing of voices. And as such they are intented to add something to the voice. In contrast most small diameter mics are more aimed at taking a few steps back and recording instruments. From that you might guess that SDC are generally better suited for classical recordings. But again, it all depends on what sounds best in the actual circumstance.

    You might also add that what you measure is not necessarily what you hear. One mic might capture sounds down to a few hertz, another start falling at 80 Hertz. But the later one might actually sound like it has more bass. I believe the combination of instrument + room + mic + speaker + room often enough precludes us hearing much below say 50Hz (my guess). So the "low frequency" sound is what happens above 50Hz. The lowest notes are not really heard at the fundamental frequency but instead at the first overtone. And in the really low frequencys, generally what you hear is buses passing by on the street or subway traffic.

    Personally though, my mic box is full of small diameter condensors. Those give the sound I aim for in classical recording. I am willing to test anything though. Have heard a lot of good about the AT4050-s and they are on my (very long) list of things to test. Right now I very much preferr omni mics as they tend to come closer to my ideal sound than the cardioids I have used. So far, and not always.

  10. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Mine too Gunnar. I just sold two Neumann's, a U87 and a KM86i, and replaced them with some more Schoeps CMC5 bodies and caps. I find LD only good for spot mics and most of my work is done with very few spots. SDC are also great spots, so I am pleased to be stocking my mic collection with SDC and ribbons of course.

    We also have an M149 for sale, this is a wonderful mic, really something special, but we NEVER use it. I was so bowled over by the sound of it when on loan, tested in close mic applications only, that it was a "no-brainer" to buy it. In the end, it was a no-brain decision alright, we should have bought a couple of CCM8Lg's instead. These are on the shopping list when the 149 is gone.
  11. MasonMedia

    MasonMedia Guest

    Everyone's suggestions are excellent. I would add the ratio of direct sound to reverberant sound (or how much of the room do you want to hear in the recording) is a big part of this kind of recording unless you are doing pop and expect to use reverb to layer the percussion into other sounds.

    Also, the mention here of LDC vs SDC has little to do with a microphone's ability to capture low freq. Low freq response is a function of capsule design, pressure (omni) vs pressure-gradient (cardoid). The primary advantage of LDC over SDC is the design's ability to achieve a lower noise floor.

    Of course, as others have stated, in the end whatever tickles your ears is what's really important. 8)

  12. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I'll agree with Peter on this one -

    In general, the size of the diaphragm has little to do with low frequency response (though more to do with higher frequency responses). The only impact it could have is if the density/thickness/size prohibits it from vibrating quickly enough, in which case, the whole spectrum will suck, not just the low frequency.

    There are some fantastic large diaphragm omni mics that pick up the lowest of the low frequencies. (The Gefell M296 has a 3/4" diaphragm and picks up cleanly down to DC. And don't forget about the LDC DPA mics!)

    With timp, the problem becomes more than just balancing direct vs reflected sound. The attack of the note is a key ingredient to the sound of the instrument. Take that away by getting out to the edge of the reverb field, and you've lost the percussive nature of the instrument.

    A single mic blended in at a low amplitude with the slightly distant mics will help to provide a good solid stable image and a clear articulation.

    In all honesty, I can't say I've ever had a problem with the timpani overloading my mics or pres. If worse comes to worse, a 10dB pad should suffice.

    As for the other guys that have mainly SDCs, that's the same boat I'm in. I have a suitcase full of SDCs (34 at last count if you count the Beyer Ribbons) and only recently began purchasing LDCs. I haven't dropped the big $$ on the heavy hitters (such as the REAL Neumanns, Brauners, etc.) but most of my clients who need LDCs are rock/pop/country vocalists and for the most part, they don't pay enough or aren't discerning enough to pick a U87 over an AT 4047. (The truth sucks...)

    Oh well -

    Good luck and enjoy the job.

    I've got to get back to a marathon editing session of 2 performances of the Messiah and hopefully have it ready by christmas!

  13. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    At 7:00 pm last night (Wednesday) on NPR they had a really nice recording of the Bach - Christmas Oratorio with some really well done Tympani recording. Here is the information.

    J S Bach: Christmas Oratorio Sinfonia
    Southwest German Radio Orchestra / Paul Goodwin
    Haenssler 93 114

    In case you want to listen to some well recorded typani BEFORE you do your recording.
  14. Plush

    Plush Guest

    I see no problem whatever with the mics at your disposal.

    Use your 414's as your main pair. Set them to cardioid and place as an ORTF pair.

    Place another condensor down close to the middle of the timps and blend this in to get the "skin effect"--the actual hit of the mallets on the drums. This close in single mic should be right above the skin of the drum, facing across the drum, not looking down at it.

    Watch your level with this hi-lite mic as it is only there to provide a little immediacy.

    Record at 24 bit and you do not need to crank your level up very high.
    Peaks that reach -6 to -3 are as high as you should go.

    I find it absurd that prior suggestions offered mentioned that you needed exotic mics to record a standard set-up. It is not the type of mic used, it is only the placment of the main pair that matters.
  15. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Sorry but the better the microphone the better the recording has been my experience otherwise we would all be using Shure SM-57s for everything.

    Just my take....
  16. RecTeach

    RecTeach Guest

    I am actually an orchestral percussionist so this is right up my alley. As some others have mentioned above a large diaphraghm mic would be a good choice. And I also agree that the AT4050 is a very underrated mic for the money. As far as placement I would go 4-6 feet above the drums with minimal distance between the two mic's. The closer the better in this instance because of phase problems that will occur if the mic's are to far apart. The configuration of the drums will give you plenty of stereo imaging.

    Regarding the height above the drums... In order to get the "full" sound of the drums you need to give them plenty of space for all of the harmonics to come together. Timpani (triangles and glocks as well) are problematic in that they require some distance between the instrument and the listener before they sound as they should. Try this: close mic a kettle drum and record 10 seconds or so. Now raise the mic's 4-6 feet above the drums and about 3 feet back and record and listen to the difference. Not saying that anyone here would close mic timpani but a lot do try to close mic everything else percussion and it drives me crazy!!!:evil: But thats a whole other soap box for another time :lol:

    Anyway I hope this helps!
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